Reed and I were walking by 7 am yesterday to ski the Apocalypse Couloir on Prospectors Mountain. I say walking because the Death Canyon road had been plowed, but was still closed to cars, making the approach and exit a bit annoying.
The Apocalypse is a Teton classic for sure, and one of the steeper ones at that. Depending on conditions, one can expect to rappel, downclimb, side-slip, or ski the narrow, icy section. It doesn’t get much sun, so it holds good snow, but most of the time you will be showered on by spin-drift and dodge ice-chunks on ascent and descent.
The snow pack is very thin here in the Tetons and we had to walk with our skis on our backs down the dry switchbacks to Phelps Lake. We had to search for a little while for a suitable spot to cross the creek as well…adding to the fun! The sun was warming things up quick, but the wind was keeping the snow cool, and we booted up into the couloir.
The occasional river of slough would run by as we climbed up, into the narrow section. We kept our eyes peeled for larger debris coming down, but we felt we were relatively safe for now.Occasionally, spin-drift would fill the air, but not as bad as I have experienced here before
I pulled out my ice ax once the slope steepened, and I was glad I had my steel crampons today, as the front -points on my aluminum once are getting pretty short and worn down from walking on too many rocks.
The couloir chokes, and holds ice well into the summer. The ice was a nice blue color in the depths of the narrows. It was cool to look at as we climbed with our Whippets and ice axes.
The snow got increasingly better the higher we climbed, and soon the powder was up to our knees in spots. The Apocalypse is much longer than it looks from the valley floor. It doubles back towards the southeast, and continues for another few hundred feet until it peters out into two steep chimneys that don’t seem to hold enough snow to ski.
We climbed as high as we could ski from, and had great views of the south side of Buck Mountain and into No Woods Basin. I’ve tried skiing in No Woods Basin once before and ended up with a sprained ankle. Not enough to keep me from going back though…looks great from here!
There was conveniently a nice alcove that had formed between the snow and rock. It was more than roomy enough for us to spread out as we took off our crampons and stashed our ice axes, getting ready to ski the goods.
There was also some quick spelunking to be had, as our little nook continued up, deeper into the mountain. Not wanting to disturb any critters, we stayed away…and focused on the task at hand.
The snow felt OK on the way up, mostly good, stable powder on a firm crust, but a few slabs lingered in spots. We skied in classic leap-frog style, from island of safety to island of safety, pulling out of the fall-line as the slough built up and threatened to pull us down.
The upper section of the Apocalypse is the best skiing in my option. It is the steepest section and provides an elevator shaft feeling.
The upper section sort of ‘slam-dunks’ you into the main, Apocalypse couloir. Almost steep enough for ‘kung-fu’ turns, but not quite.
Once back in the middle section, the snow became a bit more variable, which is nice because this is where you really don’t want to screw up. A tumble here would leave you pin-balling down the mountain and into the ice below.
This is the third time I’ve skied the Apocalypse Couloir. The first time my partner and I down-climbed the icy narrows…like today. On my second descent, I was with Reed again, and we were able to side-step down the crux with our skis on. It was nice cuz putting on and taking of your crampons and skis takes time, and this isn’t the place where you want to linger.
We battled a few runnels and ice blobs below the choke, but some good snow (that we had pushed down from above) had accumulated, and softened up the ride. The snow smoothed a bit as we skied down to our skins and into the sun. Although it feels like May here in the Tetons, good snow can still be found.